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Coming Up Short

Public school systems across the country have been struggling to balance their budgets in light of recent funding cuts. And unfortunately, school athletic programs have been hit very hard as a result (losing well over $200,000 in some cases). That financial burden is being passed along to coaches, whose stipends were also affected, and to parents, who are being asked to pony up for the sports their kids want to play.

Paying to Play

For a number of years, many schools around the country have had a "pay to play" fee that covers the season ($150 is usually the norm).

Due to funding issues, many schools are finding per season fees insufficient. If you're not fortunate enough to live near a famous athlete's alma mater (like Charlotte, North Carolina, where Michael Jordan paid for their sports program), you will likely be expected to contribute.

Though fees tend to vary by area, here’s an idea of what to expect:

Track & Field: $50-$125.

Basketball, Cheering, Field Hockey, Football, Golf, Gymnastics, Lacrosse, Softball & Baseball, Swimming: $325-$450.

Tennis and Hockey often fall in the price ranges listed below, but if a school is not equipped with courts or a rink, fees can climb as high as $700 per child.   

In some areas, like Fairfield, Ohio, for instance, fees can vary depending on the grade rather than the sport. According to USA Today, students in this district “are asked to pay $630 per sport for high school, $430 per sport for middle school. There is no per-family or per-student cap."

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And according to, “Arlington High (MA) went from a flat $225-per-student fee to charging athletes between $210 and $290 for the first sport and $160 to $240 for the second; the third sport is free."

Ways to Save

If you're enrolled in a free or reduced lunch program, ask if you qualify for some leniency.

You can also save gas - and time - by carpooling with other families.  

If you have the time to give, get more involved in your kid’s teams fundraising efforts. The more money you raise, the less you may have to personally contribute next season.  

Save your receipts!  Some states offer tax credits for education costs.  It varies state by state, but in general, 25-50% of the expenses are deductible and most states have a cap anywhere between $250-$500 per student. Make sure you understand what the stipulations are, however. States have different rules for what qualifies as an education-related expense. For example, clothing for extra-curricular activities is  usually only deductable if the clothing cannot be used outside of that activity. So, while football cleats are deductable, basketball sneakers are not.  

Click here for more information about the tax credit.

Words to the Wise

Because extra-curricular activities are more expensive than ever, beware the fickle child. If you think your child will change his mind about an expensive sport like ice hockey, attend a couple practices with him the year before so he'll really know if he likes it.

And if your family’s school budget is really tight, don’t allow your kids to play every sport they are interested in.  Based on our budget, allow them a certain number of sports.  Also, look out for community leagues and compare the fees before making a choice.

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